No, Seriously, What Do You Really Think?

Ah,  the joys of 360° Degree Feedback.  Don’t you love it?  Ken Blanchard says that “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions” but who said that 47 page report of it was the way to go?  I, for one,  am not convinced.

For the uninitiated:  360° Degree Feedback is a fairly recent process  in global corporate environments designed to elicit input on the effectiveness of an individual by collecting feedback from the boss, direct reports, clients if applicable and peers.  Although the practice has been around for quite a long time, it wasn’t until the advent of internet with its ease of communication and computerized scoring/reporting that it got completely out of hand.

As a coaching organization we are often asked to provide or recommend a reputable management / leadership practices 360.  Or we are asked to provide coaches who are ‘certified’ to work with specific instruments.  There is no question that there a science and an art to interpreting any 360° feedback report.  I feel sorry for any individual faced with translating their own into a full development plan with milestones and actions with no help.

So help we do, thank goodness.

Some cool things that can come from a 360:

  • An excellent, research based instrument is built to assess use of tried and tested management and leadership practices.  At the very least, everyone who fills out a 360 on someone else, or on themselves gains a clear, concise picture of what the best managers and leaders should be measured on.  I had one client literally point to a behavior in his report on which he received a score of ‘never demonstrates’ and remarked: “It has not once in my life occurred to me that anyone would expect me to do that.  This is a real wake up call.”  Now, there is some real value in that.
  • For the truly clueless, it may be the first time that anyone has pointed out to them that how they interact with other people in the organization is important.  You accuse me of exaggeration, but those of you who work with one know exactly what I mean.

Some misgivings:

  • Raters (people we are asking to go online with their login and password and take 25 minutes of focused work time to provide thoughtful well considered feedback– and you have to be online, you can’t do it on a plane) are demonstrating severe “360 fatigue”.  It takes a lot of thought to fill these things out.  If someone has a tummy ache, has way too much to do or is just having a really bad day, it can do all kinds of crazy things to the data.
  • The 360 instrument holds the promise of anonymity – this is supposed to encourage honesty.  But who are we kidding?  In 10 years of working with 360’s I have never, ever had a client say “wow, I haven’t the vaguest idea who might think that about me”.  If we want to foster a culture of clear, honest and timely feedback in an organization, why on earth would we want to hide behind a hollow promise of anonymity?

More on this and then on Feedback in general in future posts.  Debate and comments encouraged.

3 thoughts on “No, Seriously, What Do You Really Think?

  1. Love the 360 degree model. I’ve talked with managers who changed because of it. Frankly, a typical performance review doesn’t really change us. It may change behaviors but it doesn’t touch the inside.

    Something change in my life a couple years ago that transformed the way I view feedback, especially negative feedback. I clarified vision and now I crave feedback. I wrote about it at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/criticism-and-vision/

    Feedback is more effective when it connects with personal vision.

    Thanks for you work and this great website.

    Leadership Freak,

    Dan Rockwell

  2. Nice balanced article. I’ve found that the misgivings about 360-degree feedback are overcome by the positive outcome of the process. Managers (and especially those who need it) will not get feedback in many organizations with a 360 feedback survey. It is the “ice-breaker” and catalyst to spur additional conversations that otherwise would not happen.

  3. I am SO GLAD you took on this topic, Madeleine! the 360 fatigue is real, true, and can absolutely torpedo good intentions in an “over-analyzed” organization. Data are data, to be assessed by the leader with a competent coach. BUT if an organization forces too few people to complete too many 360 assessments too often, it is fool hardy to think the overburdened collection process isn’t skewing the results.
    As a Senior Coach with Blanchard Coaching, I work with the sponsor of the coaching initiative to “read” the environment to see what works for the _raters_ as well as for the people being coached in scheduling the data collection process. Thanks so much for naming this!!

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